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GOESSMAN, JOHN, surveyor, office holder, and settlement agent; b. 1786 in Gronloh, Hanover (Federal Republic of Germany), and baptized Johann Gohsmann 22 March 1786 in the parish of Badbergen, son of Johann Henrich Gohsmann and Catharina Maria Schulte; d. unmarried 20 Jan. 1841 in Mono Township, Upper Canada.

John Goessman studied surveying and drafting at the military academy in the city of Hanover. Upon graduation he was employed for a time by the municipality’s engineering department. In 1818 he immigrated to the United States, and he moved to York County, Upper Canada, in October of the following year. On 19 November he petitioned Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland* for a licence to practise surveying. Surveyor General Thomas Ridout* examined him and required him to serve a probationary period working in Vespra Township, under the observation of Deputy Surveyor General William Chewett. Goessman was granted a licence on 9 March 1821. His subsequent surveys, conducted for the government, the Canada Company, and private parties, included Burlington Beach, Mississauga Ojibwa lands on the Credit River, and the townships of Tiny, Tay, Flos, and Wilmot. He applied unsuccessfully in 1830 for a clerkship in the Surveyor General’s Office. In reviewing his performance, Chewett noted that “he would have the advantage over almost all the sub-surveyors in the Province . . . [if] he governed himself with a little more regularity.”

Chewett’s criticism probably referred to the alcoholism that impeded Goessman’s work. He was frequently involved in drink-related violence, scrapping on one occasion, in 1821 at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River, with members of the 68th Foot from Penetanguishene. On another occasion, ten years later, he appeared at the office of the clerk of the peace in York (Toronto) in “a state of great intoxication, and evidently incapable of knowing what he was about.” Although he never lost his licence, he was dismissed from the office of superintendent of highways in the Home District in 1825, after less than a year of service, for absenteeism related to abuse of alcohol. Goessman seemed convinced of the propriety of his conduct, for he exposed his character to public scrutiny in 1824 by temporarily entering the general election in York and Simcoe.

During periods of unemployment as a surveyor, evidently prolonged by his alcoholism, Goessman resided in Markham Township and sought alternative means of support. In 1829 he solicited the government’s sponsorship both of a German-language almanac he intended to publish and of his design for an improved stump-puller. Two years previously he had ventured into land speculation, purchasing a lot in Flos from the Canada Company. At the time he declined to mention, and the company declined to advert to, the fact that military buildings were located there. Ultimately, Goessman was blamed for the land having come into the company’s hands in the first place, he having omitted to identify the buildings in his survey plan of the township. The lot escheated to the crown and he lost his purchase money of £33.

Goessman served as an agent for German-speaking settlers in Upper Canada, drafting petitions for land grants, arranging extensions of the time allowed for their performance of settlement duties, and handling other business related to land occupation and development. Among those for whom he acted were Lutherans and Anglicans in York County, including the Reverend Johann Dietrich Peterson and the Reverend Vincent Philip Mayerhoffer*. Goessman’s most extensive correspondence as an agent, extending from 1828 to 1830, was conducted on behalf of Amish and Mennonite settlers in the “German Block” of Wilmot Township, which he had surveyed. These people occupied the land under an agreement that their spokesmen, Christian Nafziger and Jacob Erb, had made with the government, but without any written authorization such as location tickets. When the block was granted to King’s College in 1828, their claims were “totally forgotten.” To his credit, Goessman assisted in negotiating terms of purchase for his clients. He was less successful in promoting German immigration to Upper Canada. The only known fruit of these efforts, between 1828 and 1837, was the settlement of a few immigrants in Puslinch Township; around them a modest German community would develop, centred on the village of Morriston. Although Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne* had provided his “pleasing patronage” in December 1828 to Goessman’s efforts to encourage German immigration, by March 1830 the government had been soured by the Wilmot experience and Colborne discouraged Goessman from placing newspaper advertisements in Buffalo, N.Y., for German immigrants.

Goessman died in 1841 in Mono Township at the home of Seneca Ketchum. He had bequeathed his small estate to a nephew, John Gerhard Goessman, a printer in Toronto. He also left behind him an extensive correspondence that sheds significant light on German immigration and settlement patterns in Upper Canada, particularly with respect to the role of government policy. His obituary in Der Deutsche Canadier und Neuigkeitsbote reported that his agency on behalf of fellow Germans would be remembered “with gratitude.”

E. Reginald Good

AO, MU 2114, 1861, no.15; RG 1, A-I-1, 29; 45: 251–54, 26366, 432; A-I-2, 4: 75, 136, 17576, 180, 473, 491; C-IV, Wilmot Township, lot 5, North Erb Street; RG 22, ser.155. Evangelisch-Lutherisch Pfarrgemeinde (Badbergen, Federal Republic of Germany), Kirchenbuch, 22 March 1786. PAC, RG 1, L1, 32: 430–31, 450–51; 33: 198–99, 311; L3, 207: G13/31; 208A: G15/42; 213: G21/13; 531: W16/26, 35; RG 5, A1: 22103–4, 26689–93, 27486, 27678, 27697–720, 27894–97, 37260–63, 45679–82; 46021–24, 46103–4, 46164–66, 46356–57, 46405–7, 49872–76, 49958–60, 50555–60, 52140–42, 52557–60, 52834–55, 52926–69, 53378–81, 53498–501, 53949–54, 54183–86, 54223–26, 54605–7, 54651–59, 54903–5, 55003–5, 55029–30, 55165–74, 55289–95, 55658–60, 55728–29, 55736–38, 55889–91, 55935–38, 56389–92, 56714–16, 5672325, 5707983, 5728795, 5827779, 6047380, 6134252, 6150913, 8367778, 8811516, 9363235, 13239192. Canadian Freeman, 22 Nov. 1832. Colonial Advocate, 3 April 1828. Der Deutsche Canadier und Neuigkeitsbote (Berlin [Kitchener, Ont.]), 12 Feb. 1841. Scadding, Toronto of old (Armstrong; 1966).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

E. Reginald Good, “GOESSMAN, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 1, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/goessman_john_7E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/goessman_john_7E.html
Author of Article: E. Reginald Good
Title of Article: GOESSMAN, JOHN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1988
Year of revision: 1988
Access Date: November 1, 2014